Leaders of the City Council's Independent Caucus are still talking crazy: they say want to conduct budget and legislative research beyond what's provided by the Mayor Daley's staff and council committee chairs, who tend to be mayoral allies. And now they say they're close to hiring a staffer to help them out.
"A lot of folks think it's a really good idea to have someone to rely on for information besides what the administration provides us," said 49th Ward alderman Joe Moore, one of the leaders of the still developing group of more or less progressive-minded alderman. "It's by no stretch of the imagination meant to be antagonistic to anybody, but we think the City Council is actually a separate branch of government and needs some independent information."
Moore and his council allies realized that again during this fall's budget hearings. They met with outside experts and consultants to talk over how to scrutinize and analyze the Daley administration's proposals. But most of the rookie "independents" stayed quiet during the hearings and appeared overwhelmed by the hundreds of pages of budget documents in front of them. The veterans offered only modest alternatives, and did so too late in the process to have an impact. In the end Daley agreed to cut a little spending and reduce tax hikes from his original plan, but that was mostly the result of pressure from his traditional council friends.
The caucus, a fluid group of around a dozen aldermen, has been getting together before meetings of the council's finance committee. Last week they decided to accept an offer of "seed money" from an unspecified outside source and to come up with specific proposals for organizing an office and hiring at least one staffer, according to several aldermen who attended. In the past officials with the Service Employees International Union have said they were prepared to help fund the caucus. "Certainly our friends in organized labor will help, and we'll look other places as well," Moore said.
But neither Moore nor fellow caucus leaders Toni Preckwinkle, of the 4th Ward, and Ricardo Munoz, of the 22nd, will offer a timetable or any more specifics on when the hiring or formal organization will happen--probably because they don't have any yet themselves. "We've decided to go ahead and figure out how to fund staff support," Preckwinkle said.
Between the lines, aldermen say that getting an independent/progressive/sometime-opposition bloc together has been slow and tough--or at least slower and tougher than initially expected. Call them smart or write them off as wusses, but several aldermen who've worked with Moore, Preckwinkle, and Munoz on particular issues, such as police accountability or affordable housing, have shown only tepid interest in appearing to join a group created as a Daley alternative. Others say they don't want to give up their independence to the Independent Caucus any more than they want to hand it over to the mayor.
"I'll sit in sometimes and be briefed on what's going on," said 42nd Ward alderman Brendan Reilly. "But yeah, I'm doing my own thing."